By Frank McLean
What did we learn from the Raptors 31 point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first game of the Eastern Conference Final? The Cavs have raised the bar and are way up there.
The Toronto Raptors have raised the bar too. They finally made it to the final four of the playoffs, but their bar has a ways to go to reach height of where the Cavaliers have placed it.
When you watched the game Tuesday night, live in the Quicken Loans Arena, or in your living room on your big flat screen TV, you saw the Cavaliers have something every NBA team wants and that’s an elite player that puts you over the top like LeBron James.
Elite players like James are guys that make you a championship contender. As far as I’m concerned there are only three of them in the league right now, James, the current MVP Steph Curry and Kevin Durant.
James only had to play 28 minutes, but that’s all he had to play to make a statement and guarantee a victory.
He was a perfect 7-7 from the field in the first half, finishing the game 11- 13 for 24 points and six boards, but it’s what he does running the offense that’s most impressive. He is his team’s best facilitator, setting up teammates and putting them in the right spot where they can be successful. He is not just a guy who hits jumps shots and can drive to the hoop.
Ball movement is the key to how the Cavaliers run their offense says their head coach Tyrone Lue.
“This year we are just trusting the pass more, more ball movement, more pace. This year we understand who we are as a team. Who we want to play through, who we want to go through and I think it has made it easier for the guys.”
Having a healthy roster also makes it easier for James.
In last year’s NBA Finals James was missing his big man Kevin Love who had his left shoulder dislocated by Kelly Olynyk in their first round match-up with the Boston Celtics. Love is a double-double machine, always in that 19 point 12 rebound neighborhood, like he was in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
He also sets Kyrie Irving up to make those big three point shots which are usually daggers in the hearts of their opponents.
Without Love and James trying to do everything, the Cavs fell to a Warriors team which many felt if the Cavaliers were healthy they could have beaten.
You have seen the determination in his eyes if you watched any of the Cavaliers games in the first two rounds. James has unfinished business to take care off. He came back to his native Ohio to bring Cleveland a championship, a city in which none of its teams has won anything since Jim Brown led the Browns to an NFL title in 1964.
You know he won’t admit it, but Dwane Casey while standing on the sideline and watching his team get their butt kicked had to be wondering what life would be like if he had James on his team.
“On the top of my head, when it’s all said and done, he’s going to be right there at the top,” Casey said about James.
“I don’t know if fans appreciate what they see with James. I think we take some of it for granted like we did with Kobe (Bryant) and when I was coaching against Michael (Jordan). We did (with) Michael. It’s going to be the same thing.”
The Raptors have had a great season, the best in their 21 year history and that cannot be taken away, but in order to win a championship in this modern day NBA you need to have an elite player. The Cavaliers have that elite player which is why the city of Cleveland, Ohio might finally get the championship that the Indians and Browns have failed to provide.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.